Lech Lecha: Hagar

Sarai… had an Egyptian maid-servant whose name was Hagar. Sarai said to Abram, “Look, the Lord has kept me from bearing. Consort with my maid; perhaps I shall have a son through her.” Abraham heeded Sarai’s request. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian…and gave her to her husband Abram as a concubine. He cohabited with Hagar and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was lowered in her esteem. Sarai said to Abram, “The wrong done me is your fault!…now that she sees she is pregnant, I am lowered in her esteem. The Lord decide between you and me!” Abram said to Sarai, “Your maid is in your hands. Deal with her as you think right!” Then Sarai maltreated her and she fled from her. An angel of the Lord found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur…(Bereishit 16: 1-7).
And she called the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-Ro’i,” by which she meant, “Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!” (Bereishit 16:13).

Black slave-maid
Hagar shuts her eyes
to hide the jumble of emotions:
she hears she will be freed –
to be Abram’s concubine.

Surrogate
She strokes her pregnant belly,
her face betrays ambivalence, as
restlessly she contemplates
her future and her child’s.

Outsider
She witnesses the tension,
hears the conflict in the tent:
Sarai’s pain and anger,
Abram’s mute response.

Exploited woman
Her face deformed by bitterness,
Sarai treats Hagar unjustly
saddling her with chores
as their husband holds his peace.

Runaway
Hagar’s anguish spills
in an avalanche of misery, as
she flees to seek the stillness –
an oasis in the desert.

Single mother
Swollen with her unborn child
alone beneath the scorching sun,
she sets out through the sand
and turns her face to home.

Seen by God
In the silence of the dunes
she hears the voice of God:
and now she knows at last
that she is truly seen.


Phyllis Trible, a contemporary bible scholar, describes Hagar as a symbol of oppression: “As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially…rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth,… the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with a child…the homeless woman, …the welfare mother…” from Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).

In the ancient Near East it was customary for a barren wife to provide her husband with a concubine to bear children. This would inevitably lead to a shifting of the dynamics in the complex relationship – the barren wife feeling diminished and her maidservant feeling superior.
The Ramban points out that Abram only conceded at Sarai’s urging. The Midrash comments that Sarai first made Hagar a free woman. Later, though, when Sarai complained to Abram and he let her do as she wished with Hagar, the Midrash adds that he cautioned Sarai that she could no longer reduce Hagar to slave status. Sarai paid no heed to this. The Ramban criticises Sarai for abusing Hagar, and Abram for permitting the abuse.
The angel found Hagar on the road to Shur, which is described in Bereishit 25:18 as being close to Egypt, so we can speculate that she fled in the direction of her native land, hoping maybe to reach home.
The Etz Hayim commentary says that when God appears to this lowly Egyptian maidservant, offering her a message of hope and comfort, the narrator’s sympathies are clearly with Hagar. It further notes that Hagar’s name for God, “El-Ro’i” can mean “God – Who – sees – me.” Her exclamation, “Have I not gone on seeing…” is understood as evidence that Hagar was spiritually stirred by her revelatory experience, and became conscious of God’s concern for the oppressed and marginalized  whom human society ignores.

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Noah: The Digression

And Terach took Abram his son, and Lot the son of his son Haran, and Sarai his daughter-in-law the wife of Abram his son and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan but they came to Haran and they settled there. (Bereishit 11:31).

Scanning the skyline
the trail disappears, yet
something awakens:
an urge to weigh anchor, and
trade ease for the unknown.

Setting forth eagerly
in the cool early morn,
the pathway is welcoming,
spirits are high, feet sail
lightly over ground.

Yet somewhere en route
the magnetic pull weakens,
the cargo feels weightier,
we seek a safe harbour
and settle for less than we dreamed.


Rabbi Moshe ben Amram Greenwald*, author of Arugat HaBosem**, taught on this verse, that not infrequently we experience an awakening and intend to reach a higher level but on the way we get side-tracked and progress no further. Terach, he says, did just that: he had pure intentions – to reach the land of Canaan – but veered off half-way. Abram, however, did not give up and pursued the goal.
In a blogpost on Lech Lecha from 2010, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2010/10/parashat-lekh-lekha-making-trip-your.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld addresses this, pointing out that although the family left its birthplace in Ur of the Chaldees on the way to Canaan, it ended up settling in Haran. She wonders why subsequently (as described in next week’s parasha, Lech Lecha), God tells Abram to fulfil his father’s intention and journey to Canaan. She says, “All of our parents have already started our journeys for us. They brought us into the world and set us on a road, usually the road they themselves had been travelling.” Dr Anisfeld interprets God’s command to Abram, “Lech lecha” as “Make the trip your own.” She says, “Yes, it is the same path your father intended to walk, but make it yours, take ownership of it,” adding, “Terah went of his own accord, but Avram does so at God’s command. This is a journey originally conceived by man, but now sanctified by God’s command. As such, the journey, though physically the same, becomes entirely new and holy. The act is the same, but the intention, the kavanah, is different. Like a blessing before the performance of a mitzvah, God’s command transforms an ordinary action, the taking of a journey, into a special, holy one…”
Dr Anisfeld concludes, “Avram’s journey is the task of every child. From the child’s perspective, every parent’s path is like Terah’s, just a physical road they have been asked to follow. Every child has the obligation and the opportunity to heed God’s call to Avram – to make the trip her own, to give it meaning and sanctification, a sense of novelty and a future.”
In a subsequent blogpost from 2011 on Lech Lecha, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2011/11/parashat-lekh-lekha-our-own-journey.html, Dr Anisfeld expands on this theme, suggesting that we all have to make a journey like Abraham did, to discover our own relationship with God. She cites the Sefat Emet, who teaches that we can only forge this relationship “by leaving behind the entrapments of our normal, everyday life. There is something about routine that makes one unthinking and unseeing. We need to somehow shed the impediments of the norm in order to allow ourselves to become a bri’ah hadashah, “a new being.””
She notes that Abraham’s ability to set forth and stay on his path, to grow and to change, was his strength. He embarked at the command of “lech lecha” – of walking or going forth, accepting the ongoing challenge of not stagnating in the same spiritual spot. Dr Anisfeld concludes, “Are we such travelers? Do we have the strength to shed the bonds that hold us in place, that keep us in the past? Do we hear and heed the call to go forth, to keep changing, ever becoming new beings, ever learning to see the world and God afresh, like our first ancestor? As the Sefat Emet says, the call is there. It’s just a matter of learning to hear it.”

*Rabbi Moshe Greenwald (1853–1911), was the Rav of Huszt, Hungary and progenitor of the Puppa Hasidic dynasty through his five sons. He authored Arugat Habosem, a book of responsa covering a wide breadth of halachic issues.
He was one of a group of students of the Ktav Sofer who took on Hasidic customs, and was also a disciple of the second Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach.
Rabbi Greenwald began his rabbinic career as the Rabbi and Av Beit Din in Homonna in Hungary, where he established a yeshiva. From there he accepted the rabbinate of Kisvárda and in 1887 he moved to Huszt where he also headed a yeshiva. He eschewed pilpul (a method of studying the Talmud through intense textual analysis in attempts to either explain conceptual differences between various halachic rulings or to reconcile any apparent contradictions presented from various readings of different texts) but advised his students to acquire breadth and depth in the study of Torah and Gemara.

**Not to be confused with another book of the same title, Arugat Habosem, which is a commentary on piyyutim by Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel, circa 1230.

Bereishit: Let us make Man

God said “Let us make man…” And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Bereishit 1:26, 27).

God says
“Let us make Man –
be My partner,
embody My image.”

In the beginning
God clothes the naked,
at the end
He buries a man.

This is the heart of Torah
which ends with lamed
and begins with bet:
lamed and bet spell lev.


The Talmud (Sotah 14a) says that the Torah both begins and ends with God performing acts of loving kindness. The first (in Bereishit 3:21) is when God Himself clothes Adam and Eve, while the last (in Devarim 34:6) is when God Himself buries Moses. God is modeling very hands-on ways of caring for others. Maybe this reflects the essence of Torah, the blueprint of the image in which Man is created, teaching us how to partner God by cultivating compassion in His world.
In Pirkei Avot (2:13), it is told that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai once asked his students what is the essential quality for living a moral life. Of all the replies, (a good (kindly) eye; (to be) a good friend; (to be) a good neighbour; seeing the consequences of one’s actions; a good heart (lev) ), he approved the last, (proposed by R’ Elazar ben Arach), because he said that this contained all the other answers. A good heart, he surmised, would prompt good actions.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski in his book “Let Us Make Man” teaches that the enigmatic words which God utters “Let us make Man…” are spoken to us, telling us that we need to partner God in “creating” ourselves in His image. Unlike animals which are created complete, we are created incomplete but with the potential to work on ourselves.
The commentary in the Hertz Chumash points out that Man alone among living creatures, is gifted, like his Creator, with moral freedom and will. Man is thus capable of guiding his actions in the service of moral and religious ideals. The Rambam says that on this account Man is said to have been made in the form and image of God.

Vezot HaBerachah: Dancing with the letters

Wooden rollers wind the parchment back:
black fire etched on white;
an open book about to be revealed.
And while the scroll is furled
back to that first word, we pause
between the end and the beginning.
And in that lull, a silent call –
to dance with the letters
as with a bride, rejoicing
in the blessing which flourishes anew.


After we complete the annual reading of the entire Torah on Simchat Torah, we immediately begin the cycle again by reading the beginning of Bereishit. In his book, Orchard of Delights: The Ohr Chadash Torah Commentary, Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman describes the “spiritual no-man’s land, suspended somewhere between the end and the beginning” in which we find ourselves, while the Torah scroll is being rewound (or a second scroll is being readied). He says that the Midrash teaches that the letters of Torah are like black fire engraved on parchment that is analogous to white fire (Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 280). Rabbi Trugman suggests that to understand even a fraction of the wisdom encoded in the black fire takes a lifetime, while the wisdom in the white fire is at present beyond human comprehension. He adds, “On Simchat Torah we do not emphasize studying Torah. Instead we dance on the white fire as if all is an open book waiting to be revealed.”
In the book, Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings from around the Maggid’s Table (Vol. 2) by Rabbi Arthur Green and others*, a teaching is brought by the Tiferet Uziel** on the verse, “Moses commanded Torah to us, an inheritance of the community of Israel.(Devarim 33:4). The Tiferet Uziel says in the name of his teacher R’ Dov Baer that the sages read the word “morashah” – inheritance as “me’orasah” – betrothed (Pesachim 49b). Rabbi Green quotes the Tiferet Uziel: “We can understand this by a worldly analogy: the king has a beautiful daughter. How improper and disrespectful it would be to take hold of her and dance about like people do in a tavern! It would be inappropriate even to draw near to her, let alone take her and go dancing!
All this is true except on her wedding day. Then the rules are loosened, and even the most ordinary person is permitted to approach her to dance. This is the case with the holy Torah, the daughter of the King of Kings, the blessed Holy One. It would seem improper even to approach her. Yet we are told that Torah is like water; just as water is owned by no one, so too is Torah accessible to all. How is this possible?
The answer is that Moses has given us a “betrothed” Torah. We are forever to approach Torah like the King’s daughter on her wedding day. Everyone has permission to dance with her! All are welcome to study Torah!”
Rabbi Green explains that the Tiferet Uziel has in mind the “mitzvah-tanz,” a special dance at the wedding when even the poor (who were accorded honour at the wedding) were given an opportunity to dance with a wealthy bride. In the analogy of Israel as the bridegroom of the Torah, here the Jew who may feel unworthy to engage in Torah, is invited to join in and dance with the bride.
In his commentary on the Sefat Emet, The Language of Truth, Rabbi Green brings one of the Sefat Emet’s teachings on Simchat Torah (when we read Vezot HaBerachah). He teaches that “the souls of Israel are vessels into which the light of Torah is able to flow. Thus it is that the light of Torah is interpreted and illuminated in accordance with the worthiness of each generation.” On the verse, “Moses commanded us Torah,”  he says this means that “We” and “Torah” are thoroughly bound together, and on the continuation, “an inheritance of the community of Israel.(Devarim 33:4) he cites the  sages who read the word “morashah” – inheritance as “me’orasah” – betrothed (Pesachim 49b). He then cites a Simchat Torah hymn which says “It [the Torah] is strength and light for us” and he says, “strength” is the essence of Torah, while “light” is the shining forth of Torah, renewed frequently but according to our efforts. And the Sefat Emet adds that it is taught that “when a person sits and studies Torah, the blessed holy One sits and studies facing him.” Rabbi Green understands this whole teaching as “a defence of ongoing creative reinterpretation of Torah.” He suggests that the Sefat Emet was very much in favour of the Chassidic tendency to keep teachings fresh and new.  Rabbi Green adds, “By the late nineteenth century, the Sefat Emet was exceptional in this regard. Here he warns against those who view the Torah as an “inheritance,” something to be passed on unchanged to the next generation. Such a Torah will indeed have “strength,” the power to protect Jewish existence, but it will be without “light,” the true purpose for which Torah was given. This message is an urgent one for our day as well. “Preserving the tradition” is not an end in itself, but only a means to making God’s light shine forth through it.”
In the book Speaking Torah, Rabbi Green and his co-authors expand on their view of this concept pointing out that we are all Moses’ disciples; what he taught is transmitted to us through the chain of tradition, but it also has to be renewed in each generation. They note the pivotal relationship between teachers and students in Judaism and that the challenge is to be faithful to our teachers but also to pass on a Torah that works for the next generation. They describe this as a covenant: “To enter into a relationship with the tradition means that we open ourselves to being challenged by it. But we also enter into that relationship bringing our whole selves, including our twenty-first-century questions and reservations.”

*Speaking Torah: Spiritual Teachings from around the Maggid’s Table, by Rabbi Arthur Green with Ebn Leader, Ariel Evan Mayse and Or N. Rose.

**The Tiferet Uziel – Rabbi Uziel Meizels (1744 – 1785) was one of the early leaders of Chassidism in Poland. He was one of the prominent disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov, and after his death, studied for many years with the Maggid of Mezeritch (R’ Dov Baer, alluded to above) at whose behest he composed his book, the Tiferet Uziel. Already as a child, his great giftedness was apparent. From a young age he became the rabbi of prominent congregations in Poland and was a close contemporary of other great rabbis. Many disciples had gathered to learn from him by the time of his premature death at age 41.

Shemini Atzeret: Lingering

On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn assembly: you shall not work at your occupations… (B’midbar 29:35).

We find our way back from self-imposed exile
and then we arrive to stand before You.

We set down our burden, lighten our load –
yet still feel unready to set forth again.

You invite us to linger: to bask in Your love
and rejoice in the grace we were too far to feel.

We stay our departure for just one more day,
then buoyed and unhindered, we journey once more.


In his book, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, Rabbi Alan Lew describes the ongoing journey on which we find ourselves, “We spend most of our lives, I think, in this strange dance – pushing forward to get back home. Teshuvah – turning, return, repentance – is the central gesture of the High Holiday season. It is a circular motion.” Rabbi Lew refers to the classic work on the Days of Awe: On Teshuvah, by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who teaches that on moving round the circumference of a circle, there is an illusion that the starting point is getting further away, but actually it is also getting closer. Rabbi Lew writes, “The calendar year is such a circle. On Rosh Hashanah, a new year begins, and every day is one day farther from the starting point; but every day is also a return, a drawing closer to the completion of the cycle.” He describes the prophet Samuel’s annual circuit of serving the people of Israel: he would go every year from Ramah to Beth El to Gilgal to Mitzpeh and back again to Ramah. Rav Soloveitchik notes, “The moment he left Ramah, he was already returning there. Everywhere he went, he was heading for home.”
Shemini Atzeret is the day which follows Sukkot. Having recently reached our starting point we are readying ourselves to set out again. Rashi interprets the word “atseret” which is understood to mean a solemn assembly, as being derived from the root “la’atsor” – to stop or stay back, as the Talmud says God requests, “Stay back with Me one more day, your parting from Me is hard.” (Sukkah 55b). Rashi deems this a sign of God’s affection for His people, just like children who think to take leave of their father and he asks them to stay one day more.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Wurka cites the verse, “And they journeyed from Sukkoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.” (Shemot 13:20) and plays on the place-name Etham, which means, “I shall be faultless,” as in Psalms 19:14, “Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins that they may not overpower me; then I shall be faultless and I will be clear from great transgression.” So the Rebbe of Wurka envisages us setting out after Sukkot feeling pure and unsullied.

Sukkot: The light in the Sukkah

On the Yamim Nora’im
the intensity compares
to almost unbearably dazzling light.

Sometimes eyes are narrowed,
aching at the strain
of seeking the Divine.

In the shelter of the sukkah,
fierce rays are filtered;
a softened glow shines steadily within.

And from this gentle light,
twinkling motes float up
drifting through the latticed roof.


The late summer/early autumn sun that frequently streams into the Sukkah is attenuated into a gentle brightness by the porous roof; the dazzling luminosity is mellowed. It seems analogous to the passion and turbulence of the preceding weeks, culminating in Yom Kippur. The subsequent days leading up to Sukkot, and Sukkot itself, yield a resolve that is softer and more sustainable.

Rav Kook teaches that repentance on Yom Kippur illuminates the soul with the light of the World to Come. He says that Yom Kippur’s elevation causes us to become distanced from our own physical world. Just as we prepare ourselves to ascend to the heights of Yom Kippur in a gradual process during the month of Elul, so we return slowly to our more mundane existence while hopefully retaining some of the sanctity of the Yamim Nora’im. The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot help us do that, and building the sukkah enables us to channel this other-worldly light into more practical physical pursuits.

The Chatam Sofer was known for his assiduous Torah learning – he would never waste any time which could be spent on it. However, he penned an entire book of songs. His son the Ketav Sofer was asked where his father found the time to compose these verses. The son responded that during the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, his father had been so charged by intense feelings of love toward his Creator that he had been unable to apply himself to learning Torah. It was during this period that he wrote the verses.

In a blogpost entitled Sukkot: Yom Kippur’s Counterbalance, http://www.jewishrecon.org/resource/sukkot-yom-kippurs-counterbalance, Rabbi Michael Cohen points out that “the traditional pounding of the first nail into the sukkah as soon as the fast of Yom Kippur is over both literally and figuratively hammers home the point that these two holidays must be seen as complementary parts of the whole. The insular, cerebral nature of Yom Kippur is balanced by the commandment on Sukkot to go outside to build and to live in the sukkah. The two holidays need each other. Our internal work is a necessary prerequisite providing us with the spiritual sustenance and energy to walk in the material world. When we separate the two or only do one we are incomplete.” Rabbi Cohen adds that this connection between Yom Kippur and Sukkot has its origin in the tradition [which Rashi cites] which holds that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur and the next day he assembled the entire community to instruct them in the fashioning of the Mishkan – the portable sanctuary. He says, “Our building of the sukkah is in part a remembrance of our building of the Mishkan…a dwelling place for God in the world. This is our charge – to understand that no matter what work we do in our lives we must see that work as creating a place for God to dwell among us…We must release the sparks of holiness contained in what we do.”

Sukkot: The Sukkah of peace

For seven days…all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot [thatched huts]. (Vayikra 23:42). This teaches that it is fitting for all of Israel to sit in one sukkah. (From the Talmud, Sukkah 27b)

Can all Your people
dwell in one sukkah?
No well-built fortress, this,
with vaulted ceiling
and buttressed pillars to hold it up –
its gaping roof and fragile walls
expose us all: left-wing and right;
those who deny Your existence
and those who tremble before You;
those who would transmit Your word
and those who would renew it;
the native born and those
still searching for their place;
scions of the ancient tree
and later-grafted branches.
And yet spread over us
Your sukkah of peace,
for as the walls sway in the wind
and star-lit rain seeps through the roof,
a song of unity may yet emerge.


In his book Silver from the Land of Israel (based on the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook*), Rabbi Chanan Morrison has collected some of Rav Kook’s teachings on Shabbat and Chagim. Here are two of the questions (from Mo’adei HaRe’iyah) that Rav Kook raises about Sukkot. The first concerns the remarkable claim made in the Talmud, “…it is fitting for all of Israel to sit in one sukkah.” Rav Kook wonders what is behind this utopian vision. He answers that Yom Kippur illuminates our lives with the light of teshuvah and facilitates an increasing harmony among the diverse sectors of the nation. He sees Sukkot as a special time when, having undergone a spiritual ascent during the Days of Awe, and having attained “a comprehensive unity… that extends its holy light over all parts of the Jewish people…it is as if the entire nation is sitting together, sharing the holy experience of the same sukkah.” Rav Kook cites the Chasidic master Rabbi Natan** who deems this sense of unity to be the very essence of the mitzvah of Sukkot, “One should concentrate on being part of the entire people of Israel, with intense love and peace, until it may be considered as if all of Israel dwells together in one sukkah.”
This unity is indeed a theme of Sukkot: the mitzvah in Vayikra (23:40) enjoins us to take the arba’ah minim – the four species: the etrog – citron; the lulav – palm frond; the hadasim – myrtle branches; and the aravot – willow branches. A Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah (30:10-12) likens these to all the members of the community: those both learned and pious; those only learned; or only pious; and those who are neither – but all have a place if the community is to be complete.
A further unifying feature of Sukkot was the Hakhel – assembly of all the people on Sukkot at the end of the Shemittah year. The entire community would gather together – men, women, children, and strangers, to hear the Teaching – the whole book of Devarim (which would take about 3-4 hours to read). This was to ensure that not only the intellectual or priestly elite would be familiar with the Torah but all the people would hear it.
A second question which Rav Kook addresses is the peculiar metaphor for peace in the Shabbat evening prayers, “U’fros aleinu sukkat shelomecha – May You spread over us a sukkah of Your peace.” Rav Kook asks why we pray that peace would be in a makeshift, temporary booth and not a robust and permanent fortress of peace? He answers that Jewish law validates a sukkah even when it has huge holes and little more than two walls. “Even such a fragile structure still qualifies as a kosher sukkah. The same is true regarding peace. Peace is so precious, so vital, that even if we are unable to attain a complete peace, we should still pursue a partial measure of peace. Even an imperfect peace, between neighbours, or between an individual and the community, is worthwhile.
“How great is peace!” proclaimed the Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 9:9). The value of peace is so great that we pray for it even if it will be like a sukkah – flimsy and temporary, rendered fit only by special laws.”

*Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, the founder of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav Kook (The Central Yeshiva For The Masses), Jewish thinker, Halachist, Kabbalist and a renowned Torah scholar. Also known by the acronym HaRe’iyah, he was one of the most celebrated and influential rabbis of the 20th century.
Rav Kook was born in Grīva in the Courland Governorate of the Russian Empire in 1865 (today a part of Daugavpils, Latvia), the oldest of eight children. His father, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ha-Cohen Kook, was a student of the Volozhin Yeshiva. As a child Rav Kook gained the reputation of being an ilui – a prodigy. He entered the Volozhin Yeshiva in 1884 at the age of 18, where he became close to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv). Although he stayed at the yeshiva for only a year and a half, the Netziv has been quoted as saying that if the Volozhin Yeshiva had been founded just to educate Rav Kook, it would have been worthwhile.
In 1887, at the age of 23, Rav Kook entered his first rabbinical position as rabbi of Zaumel, Lithuania, and in 1895 he became the rabbi of Bausk (now Bauska). Between 1901 and 1904, he published three articles which anticipate the fully developed philosophy which he developed in the Land of Israel. In 1904, he moved to Ottoman Palestine to assume the rabbinical post in Jaffa, which also included responsibility for the new mostly secular Zionist agricultural settlements nearby. During these years he wrote a number of works, most published posthumously, including a brief but powerful book on morality and spirituality, titled “Mussar Avicha“. In 1911 Rav Kook maintained a correspondence with the Jews of Yemen, and their reply was later published in a book. Rav Kook’s influence on people in different walks of life was already noticeable, as he engaged in kiruv – outreach, thereby creating a greater role for Torah and Halacha in the life of the city and the nearby settlements.
The outbreak of the First World War caught Rav Kook in Europe, and he was forced to remain in London and Switzerland for the remainder of the war. In 1916, he became rabbi of the Spitalfields Great Synagogue (Machzike Hadath – Upholders of the Faith), an immigrant Orthodox community in London. Upon returning, he was appointed the Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem, and soon after, as first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine in 1921. Rav Kook founded the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem in 1924 to serve as a beacon of Torah learning.  He was a master of Halacha in the strictest sense, while at the same time possessing an unusual openness to new ideas. This drew many religious and nonreligious people to him, but also led to widespread misunderstanding of his ideas. He wrote prolifically on both Halacha and Jewish thought, and his books and personality continued to influence many even after his death in Jerusalem in 1935, reflected in attendance of his funeral by an estimated 20,000 mourners.
Rav Kook tried to build and maintain channels of communication and political alliances between the various Jewish sectors, including the secular Jewish Zionist leadership, the Religious Zionists, and more traditional non-Zionist Orthodox Jews. He believed that the modern movement to re-establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel had profound theological significance and that the Zionists were agents in a heavenly plan to bring about the messianic era. Per this ideology, the youthful, secular and even anti-religious Labor Zionist pioneers, chalutzim, were a part of a grand Divine process whereby the land and people of Israel were finally being redeemed from the 2,000-year exile by all manner of Jews who sacrificed themselves for the cause of building up the physical land, as laying the groundwork for the ultimate spiritual messianic redemption of world Jewry.

**Rabbi Natan of Breslov (1780 – 1844) (also known as Reb Noson) born Nathan Sternhartz, was the chief disciple and scribe of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, founder of the Breslov Chasidic dynasty. He is credited with preserving, promoting and expanding the Breslov movement after the Rebbe’s death. Rebbe Nachman himself said, “Were it not for Reb Noson, not a page of my writings would have remained.”
Rabbi Natan was born in the town of Nemyriv, Ukraine. His father, Rabbi Naphtali Hertz Sternhartz, was a Talmudic scholar of some distinction and a wealthy businessman. The firstborn of his family,  he received a traditional Torah education and learned his father’s business. At the age of 13 (as was the custom), he married the daughter the leading rabbinical authority in Mohilov, Sharograd, and Kremenetz. Both his father and his father-in-law were staunch opponents of Chasidism.
Although he was a learned scholar, he felt that something was lacking in his spiritual devotions so he began to visit different Chasidic rebbes, including R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and was impressed by their followers’ sincerity. However, he could not summon the same intensity in his religious devotions. In 1802, R’ Nachman moved to Breslov, Ukraine, which is located nine miles south of Nemyriv (a three-hour journey by horse in those days). R’ Natan went to hear the Rebbe, who was only 8 years his senior, and found the spiritual advisor he was seeking. R’ Natan became R’ Nachman’s lifelong disciple.
Although his family was initially opposed to his association with Chasidism, they eventually relented when they saw that his Torah scholarship and personal piety only improved under the tutelage of R’ Nachman.
While R’ Nachman was alive, R’ Natan was his official scribe, carefully recording his teacher’s words. Because many of the lessons were delivered on Shabbatot and Chagim, and could not therefore be written down, the material had to be written down later. However, R’ Natan had a phenomenal memory and was able to recall many lessons almost word-for-word. He would then show the manuscript to the Rebbe, who would make any final corrections. Some lessons were dictated line by line by R’ Nachman to R’ Natan after the Shabbat or Chag in Yiddish, and R’ Natan would then translate the lessons into Hebrew. In his later publications, R’ Natan carefully notes whether a lesson was edited and approved by R’ Nachman himself, or was a less formal anecdote not specifically approved by him. He also makes a clear distinction between the Rebbe’s actual words and any comments he himself wrote.
After R’ Nachman’s death, R’ Natan moved to Breslov and began to be known as Nathan of Breslov. He became the leader of the Breslover Hasidim — but not the Rebbe, because R’ Nachman did not appoint a successor or establish a dynasty.
Instead, he devoted his energy to strengthening the Breslover movement while maintaining his own rigorous schedule of Torah study. He purchased a printing press and published all of R’ Nachman’s writings, as well as all the remembered conversations he and others had had with his teacher. R’ Natan also wrote many original discourses and teachings, some of which were published during his lifetime. He corresponded with Breslover Hasidim throughout Ukraine, and visited them several times a year.
R’ Natan was also responsible for making Uman, Ukraine, the city in which Rebbe Nachman is buried, into a focal point of the Chasidut. In 1811, he organized the first annual Rosh Hashana kibbutz (prayer gathering) at the gravesite, and continued to lead this pilgrimage until his death in 1844. Around 1830, he raised funds to build a synagogue in Uman to accommodate the increasingly large Rosh Hashana pilgrimage, and composed a number of prayers to be recited at R’ Nachman’s grave by his followers.
Even during R’ Nachman’s lifetime, some Chasidic groups opposed his novel approach to disseminating Chasidism. After his death, this opposition was directed at R’ Natan, who refused to assume the mantle of leadership and continued to promulgate the teachings of the deceased rebbe as if he were still alive. In late 1834, after the Breslover synagogue opened in Uman, Rabbi Moshe Zvi of Savran (the Savraner Rebbe) instigated a smear campaign against R’ Natan and the Breslover Hasidim. Opponents denounced him to the Russian authorities, claiming that he was a false prophet whose activities opposed the interests of the Czar. He was arrested, charged with treason, exiled to Nemirov (his hometown), and placed under house arrest.
A week before Rosh Hashana, however, he obtained a travel permit and journeyed to Uman in secret. He was discovered, however, reported to the authorities, and arrested on the night before Rosh HaShanah. Assimilated Jews who lived in Uman and who had been friendly with R’ Nachman intervened on his behalf and allowed him to remain in Uman for the holiday.
The sudden death of the Savraner Rebbe in 1838 cooled his followers’ antipathy and R’ Natan was finally able to return to the city of Breslov later that year. He died in 1844 and was buried in Breslov in the old Jewish cemetery.